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The Great Democratists

Arthur raises an interesting point:

A great point Hoppe raises about democracy: who are the democratic thinkers? The Athenian democracy had nothing to do with the democracy as broadly understood, Rousseau envisioned something radically different at a very small scale, based on consensus more than majority rule. Montesquieu had in mind something closer to a random selection of representatives. There is simply no serious thinker behind democracy.

Hmmm... and de Tocqueville sold democracy as being girded by civic virtue, not the impersonal massive nation-scale democracy we have today.

Would any past thinker of note have supported the popular modern lay conception of democracy?

The Black Box of Health Care Reform

Disclaimer: I don't monitor the polls, listen to what pundits have to say, or keep up with political intrigues. These are my thoughts on the politics of health care reform based on my own anecdotal observations of everyday Americans.

The vast majority of Americans are happy with their health care. They may tell pollsters that they're unhappy (because it's fashionable), but actions are louder than words, and when it comes time for their Congressmen to make their health care very different from what it is now, their true preferences will be revealed.

So far, health care reform has been sold to the American public as a "black box". What's inside the box hasn't been clearly revealed. Americans have been told that there are some obvious shortcomings to their healthcare system and that there are easy reforms that can fix things. The nature of those reforms hasn't been important so far; it's just a pleasant idea.

Obama speaks of preventative care as if it's a magic solution, whereas in reality, there's little proof it will save money, and there's a good chance it will increase health care costs. Americans have been sold on the idea that the black box contains feel-good easy fixes like "preventative care". To the extent they believe health care reform will be as easy as more checkups, getting the right vaccines, and having more screening tests, Americans favor health care reform.

The reality is that any further involvement of government in health care will necessarily include some tough measures: rationing, capitation, less autonomy for doctors, some form of mandatory treatments, and no tort reform. To save money, you actually have to... spend less money. Sure, better diet and more exercise might be just as effective yet cheaper than coronary angioplasty for heart disease, but by golly, patients want to have that choice. When the same Americans who today tell pollsters that they want healthcare reform learn that they may not be able to undergo angioplasty, they will shout from the highest rooftops to prevent reform from happening. Americans are a stubborn people. They don't like being handcuffed.

Based on the people I talk to every day including patients, the tide is turning. The warm-and-fuzzy glow has worn off and we're now at the "hold on just a minute, let's think this through" stage. And the fight against health care reform has barely begun. The black box hasn't even been opened yet. If you were to ask the average Joe what's in the various proposals under consideration, he would have no answer. The more reform gets delayed, the worse it gets for Obamacare's chances. When the black box is fully opened, Obama better pray that the Democratic majority is enough to override the public sentiment.

If the black box is fully opened--if the public fully understands what reform actually entails--Americans will revolt against it just like they did under Bill Clinton, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt. Reform might still happen given the Democrats' powerful position, but it will be unpopular and a watered-down version what was dreamed of at the time of the inauguration.

Facebook and Networking

It took me longer than I should have to arrive at the conclusion that networking is the difference between achieving merely very good things and achieving greatness. The best networker I know writes for this blog. The US is a very meritocratic country. Whatever your background, if you're good at what you do, you'll get far. But to get to the very top, you need to know the right people.

As wealth grows and material things become more accessible in the first world, social status will be the capital invested as a means to get rich.

Conjecture: In traditional societies the size of Dunbar's number, positive interactions such as friendliness, praise, and well wishes had to be balanced with negative interactions such as rebuke, scold, and revenge. With highly networked societies of abundance, the possibility of only positive interactions arises. Negative people can simply be ignored.

Libertarian Battle Royale

Tyler Cowen takes part in a time-honored blogosphere tradition: instigating a libertarian battle royale. Back when I was a wee lad in blog years, I'd have probably jumped into the ring and proceeded to throw in a few bodyslams, dropkicks, and while the referee wasn't looking, choke-holds.

But with the wisdom of years, I know better. Instead, I will try my hand at Miyagi-style zen-inspired words of wisdom. My thoughts are:

1) To the extent that I support any specific view of the ideal institutions of a libertarian society, I'm most sympathetic to the vision of David Friedman.

2) Given that competing personal security agencies aren't in near our future, I support changes in the direction of the spirit of DDF's vision: law as a private good. People who support certain laws should benefit from their goodness and suffer from their badness. This means supporting federalism, decentralization, and local autonomy, i.e., as Patri puts it, competitive government, or as C. J. Trillian puts it, second-level libertarianism.

3) The differences between the various subtypes are grossly overrated. It's important to highlight differences between ideas, but more often than not, the labels themselves take on a life of their own, and the ideas take a back seat. The argument enters the socio-political battlefield rather than remaining in the intellectual realm. Tribalism ensues. This is bad.

4) The most effective ideas appeal to self-interest. The best libertarian ideas have to appeal to the self-interest of people who don't call themselves libertarians.

5) To make honey young bee need young flower, not old prune.

Random Thoughts on Facebook, part two

One of the oddest phenomena on Facebook is when someone asks you to be their friend after a long period of time in which you have little contact with them, and they don't even make small talk. It's one thing to reconnect and catch up on the years since your last contact. It's another to simply send a sterile friend request without so much as a "Hey, what are you up to these days?"

This behavior is common and acceptable with people who you are already in contact with, or were recently in regular contact with. So I suppose the implication with a long lost acquaintance is the same: "We were and still are buds". The only problem is that it often isn't true.

For example, I was recently Facebook-friended by a guy I worked with for one year back in 2004 and then never talked to afterward. He's not a guy I socialized with outside work, and I only knew him based on "water-cooler talk". I knew he was married, had recently (at that time) had twins, and liked to brag about his Porche that I never found out how he afforded.

Since then, I've heard from friends of friends of his that his wife tragically died of breast cancer at a very young age, but I don't know anything else about him. So he sends me a friend request without any attached message of "Hi, how are you?" I don't know anything else about him: where he lives, who he works for, if he's still driving the Porche, etc. I obviously can't send condolences about his wife since he hasn't broached the topic (or any topic). So what did I do? I accepted the request; at the very least, he could help me find work in the future if need be.

Does anyone else find this behavior strange? It's one example of established Facebook norms that don't make much sense to me.

Random Thoughts on Facebook, part one

For a long time, I stayed away from Facebook due to paranoia about privacy. Eventually I arrived at the conclusion that the privacy measures are strong enough that I shouldn't be that worried, and that the benefits of Facebook outweigh the drawbacks. So I finally signed up a few months ago with the goal of networking in mind. If I ever need a job some time in the future, I'll have a large list of contacts at my fingertips, people who I'd otherwise lose touch with.

Many people use Facebook for social reasons; this is only of secondary concern to me. For such people, Facebook's purpose seems to be to post pictures of themselves with high status friends in trendy urban establishments. The goal is to raise their own status in the process. In fact, I think that's the only reason some of these wannabe Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians actually go out: not to drink or socialize or find romance, but rather so they can post the pics on Facebook.

In contrast, I'm at the age at which most of my friends are starting to have kids. They love Facebook because they can post pictures of their kids and all their friends can ooh and ahh about them. Some even form "Moms clubs" to designate their parenthood and friendship. So most of my daily Facebook content is seeing pictures of my friends' babies in various outfits like Superman or Tarzan and high-five poses with periodic updates on their milestones.

All Grown Up

After 12 years of post-college education/training, hundreds of books read and tests taken, and lots of sleepless nights, I finally begin my first "real job" tomorrow.

Secession Week Finale

Secession Week ends today on the subject of American Independence.

Joey Chestnut brings it home once more.


California is going to issue IOUs because it can't pay its bills.

Its budget gap growing and its political process for addressing the gap unhinged, California will begin Thursday to pay vendors and taxpayers with i.o.u.’s, only the second time the state has adopted the emergency payment method since the Great Depression.

By Thursday afternoon, state officials said, 28,742 warrants worth $53.3 million will be printed and readied for distribution. If the state’s fiscal crisis – which has left California unable to pay all of its bills – continues without a budget settlement, it would issue as much as $3.36 billion for the month of July.

In addition, state workers have been ordered to stay home during some workdays.

In the meantime, Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has ordered state workers to take a third furlough day each month, beginning next Friday, to help stave off a further cash crisis in the state.

It's refreshing to see a government actually have to balance its books. They have to cut back on expenses because they don't have enough to pay for them, just as families and corporations do. Similar stories have been published about other states. They have to deal with the consequences of an extravagant lifestyle.

This is probably a stupid question, but why does the state government have to balance its books each year, whereas the federal government can accrue massive debts every year? Why do we not hear, "Well, this year Federal workers will have to take a month off without pay because the USG has already spent the money it had?" I'm guessing it's because the federal government can print money.

Speaking of creating jobs

From the WSJ:

President Barack Obama had promised that the stimulus plan would save or create 3.5 million jobs. Republicans have criticized the plan and the reliability of the administration's numbers.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll suggests growing public doubts, with 39% of those surveyed saying the stimulus is a "bad idea," up from 27% in January.

Meanwhile, some state officials worried about how they were supposed to count jobs credited to the stimulus. Now, the White House Office of Management and Budget has given states guidance calming these concerns.

"All we're asking them to do is a simple headcount; tell us how many people you hired," said Rob Nabors, the deputy director of the office, in an interview.

Recipients won't be asked to grapple with complicated estimates, he added. Instead, they may use their best guess whether a job would have been created or saved in the absence of a recovery plan, and to not count it if they are uncertain.

I'm left speechless, so I won't comment further.

Secession Week posts for today

Over at Let a Thousand Nations Bloom (which you should add to your newsreaders if you haven't already), we continue with Secession Week.

Secession vs Revolution roundup by Patri Friedman
Revolution vs Secession by Jonathan Wilde
Bloodless Instability by Will Chamberlain

Isn't it ironic?

Deepak Chopra thinks Hollywood doctors have gone too far.

Chopra spoke of a "huge problem" Hollywood had with "celebrity doctors who not only initiate people into the drug experience but then they perpetuate it so that people become dependent on them."

As opposed to initiating them into pseudoscience and quackery.

Free Jobs for Everyone!

It seems that every new program Obama wants to enact comes with the promise of new jobs.

Health care reform will create new jobs!
Green energy will create new jobs!
The economic stimulus bill will create new jobs!

It doesn't make sense that government programs would be required to create new jobs. If there's untapped demand in the economy, then the private economy is the best way to respond to that demand and create new jobs. Exceptions might include genuine public goods, but none of the things Obama talks about are public goods.

For example, exactly how will green energy initiatives create new jobs? Presumably, taxes will fund such initiatives. Taxes hamper economic growth and leave less money from which to pay employees. Perhaps there will be subsidies for green companies. All this does is divert business from non-green companies to green ones, at best a net push with respect to jobs.

If there was a demand for green energy, there would already be jobs being created in that industry. It may be that though green energy harms the economy, it's necessary and vital for other reasons, but it shouldn't be sold on the idea that it creates jobs.

The Big Kid

Jacob Weisberg expresses the same reasons I didn't think he was a pedophile: he just seemed like a big kid. Every bizarre thing he did as an adult can be explained by giving him the mind of an 11 year old.

People tend to throw up hands at Michael Jackson's multifarious bizarreness. But is it really so strange? The boy was forced to work by a cruel and physically abusive father starting at the age of 7. (If he'd been sent into a factory or coal mine, instead of onstage, we'd have more compassion for him.) As a boy, he was denied what even most abused and underprivileged children have: school, friends, and play.

Instead, Michael was made into a performing sexualized freak, a boy whose soprano voice kindled passion in grown women. He was made to witness adult sexuality at an age when it can only have been terrifying and incomprehensible to him. By 10, he was performing in strip clubs and hiding under the covers in hotel rooms while his older brothers got it on with groupies. At 11—the age at which his psyche seems frozen—he was a superstar. "My childhood was completely taken away from me," he has said. Almost everything that seems freakish about him can be explained by his poignant, doomed effort to get his stolen childhood back.